Recently my OH has got a bee in his bonnet about bitcoin. In my mind bitcoin is a sort of gold-coloured object like the new pound coins which you bite on to see if it’s real. But although OH has tried several times to explain what bitcoin actually is, I have no concept of it. Apparently it’s a thing you make yourself, though what manner of thing I don’t know. Maybe you need a 3-D printer?
One thing I do understand – bitcoin is an alternative to money which can make money. At the moment, anyway, until everyone gets into it.
All of this reminds me somewhat of the Leaf. The Leaf was an alternative currency used by Leicester LETS (Local Exchange and Trading Scheme) a group who offered skills and goods without the use of LSD. By which I mean pounds, shillings and pence (hang on, that ought to be LP now…) anyway, the idea was to use skills and to exchange goods which would otherwise not be saleable in the mainstream economy. Hence if you were good at gardening but without qualifications or experience, you could offer your skills, get paid in Leaves and then use those Leaves to buy, say, an old bike or some window-cleaning.
In theory it was great. What led to its eventual demise was that people got just as hung up on the value of their leaves as they did about cash. People ended up with leaves they couldn’t spend because either they couldn’t find what they wanted or there was a gap in the economy. It was like having vouchers for McDonalds…
But my take on it was, it ought not to matter. The point was not the Leaf per se; the point was to do things for each other which otherwise wouldn’t have got done, and to recycle things which would otherwise have gone to landfill (though Freecycle has now taken over this role.)
LETS groups tended to work best in smaller, contained communities where people already knew each other. In a large city such as Leicester there were sadly too many people prepared to take without giving.
But I’ve strayed from my point, which was going to be this: in the end, no matter what currency you have, whether it’s bitcoin or Leaves or pounds sterling, none of it is real. It is merely a system which everyone has agreed to treat as if it were real. On the back of a fiver it says (I’m working from memory here since I don’t have any actual notes to look at) ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds.’ In other words, it’s a promissory note. It ain’t real.
And these days when we’re more likely to see figures on a screen than notes and coins, it becomes less real by the day.
It’s true – I’ve bitten it.
Which brings me finally to the most often misquoted passage of the Bible. It isn’t money that’s the root of all evil: it’s the love of money:
I think we can see this every day.